Energy

Workers At Nuclear Plants Had High-Paying Stable Careers. Now, They Fear For Their Jobs

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter

Nuclear plant engineers are highly trained professionals with high-paying salaries, but the beleaguered nuclear industry is putting their jobs at risk all across the country.

The country’s nuclear fleet is suffering under a grim market. Competing against cheap natural gas and subsidy-backed renewables, many nuclear facilities — weighed down by archaic regulations — have been rendered unprofitable. Six nuclear plants have closed since 2013. The future does not look much brighter, with nine other plants expected to shut down by 2025.

“The thought of it really stresses me out,” Christine DeSantis said to The Wall Street Journal in a report published Friday. “Who knows what’s going to happen to nuclear power in the next couple of years.”

DeSantis is a mechanical engineer working at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station located in southern Pennsylvania. A nuclear mechanical engineer’s average salary is over $85,000, according to PayScale, with the top 90 percent of earners raking in over $130,000. The plant — which has been in operation since the 1970s — is slated to close in 2019, taking with it hundreds of well-paying jobs and $1 million in annual taxes.

“The value of these jobs is that they carry rural parts of the country that, especially in this day and age, are desperate for the stability of those kinds of jobs,” David Foster, a policy expert at the Energy Futures Initiative think tank, explained.

As nuclear plants continue into early retirement in rural parts of the country, there will be no new plants to fill the void. There are only two nuclear reactors under construction in the entire country. No other nuclear plants or reactors are currently being built.

However, the loss of nuclear plants doesn’t just remove high-paying jobs from communities that desperately need them, but also leads to higher carbon emissions. The federal government and growing number of state governments, recognizing the value of nuclear, are quickly acting to stave off the closures. (RELATED: MIT Study Finds Nuclear Energy To Be Essential In Reducing Pollution)

Vogtle Nuclear Plant. Shutterstock

White steam flows from the huge, 548 foot, cooling towers, that rise over the reactor at Vogtle Electric Generating Plant. June 6, 2013 near Waynesboro, Georgia. Shutterstock

Congress earlier in December passed the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, bipartisan legislation that seeks to streamline the regulatory process for commercial nuclear plants and bring relief to an industry bogged down by government red tape. At the same time, numerous state governments have passed different bills that keep at-risk nuclear plants from closing down. Connecticut, Illinois, New York and New Jersey are some of the states that have recently taken action.

The Trump administration, concerned about grid reliability, has also expressed concern over nuclear plant closures. The Energy Department has twice considered a bailout for at risk coal and nuclear facilities, but its plan has yet to be implemented.

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